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Healthy and organic alternatives to Pasta and Rice: From Couscous to Quinoa

Healthy and organic alternatives to Pasta and Rice: From Couscous to Quinoa

Couscous and Quinoa…both are difficult for some to pronounce, both sound kinda scary and exotic.  You mean you can eat that stuff? Yes. You can eat them.  Yes, they have both become quite popular among vegetarians and the health-conscious who are looking for ways to spice up their diets and add some variety to their plates, while still eating healthy and organic food. 

Couscous and Quinoa are two very different products, originating from different regions of the world and with differing nutritional qualities. Thus, even though they may look similar, they are not the same.

Couscous (pronounced koos-koos) is a small, granular-shaped pasta made of crushed durum wheat semolina (pasta is made of ground semolina) that has gained popularity in the last decade.  It is less refined than pasta, and has been a staple dish in northern areas of Africa for some time.  It is even considered the national dish of Morocco.

The more traditional method of producing couscous involved rolling semolina by hand with water, and drying the resulting pellets in the sun and dry-stored until needed.  Today, more mechanical means are used.  To cook this tiny pasta, simply steam or boil.  Steaming is recommended as it creates a lighter, fluffier texture.

Whole-wheat Couscous has more fiber and a slightly higher nutritional content than regular couscous.  On the whole, couscous has slightly lower calories than rice or Quinoa, and a little more protein than pasta (about 6 g per cup).  Cholesterol-free and a good source of carbohydrates, this versatile starch can be used in a variety of recipes.

Quinoa (pronounced keh-NO-ah or, sometimes, KEEN-wah) is fairly new to the American food scene.  It is a tiny seed originally from the Andes region of South America, with the largest producer being Peru.  It can be used as a substitution for rice in many recipes, although the difference between rice and Quinoa nutritionally is huge.

First off, it takes only about 15 minutes to cook it.  Secondly, it provides all 9 essential amino acids, particularly lysine, which is great for tissue growth and repair.  Thirdly, it has a high protein content (averaging about 16.2 percent compared to 7.5 percent for rice and 14 percent for wheat), and is gluten-free. Lastly…well, it’s just a fun word to say…keeeeeeennnnn-wahhhhhh!!!

Quinoa has great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  In addition, it’s low-allergen properties and highly digestible nature makes it a fiber that all can enjoy.  Natural bird and insect-deterring chemicals called saponins are found on the outside coating of the seed, and while most companies pre-rinse the seeds to remove this coating, it doesn’t hurt to rinse the seeds some more before cooking them to ensure that these bitter-tasting components are removed.

To cook, use one part quinoa to two parts water, stock or broth.  Bring to a boil in a saucepan, reduce heat to simmer, and cover.  After 15 minutes, you will know that the Quinoa is done because the seed will become translucent and the spiraling, tail-like, white germ will partially detach itself from the rest of the seed.  Quinoa flour can also be a great gluten-free alternative to wheat flour.

It might be important to note that some critics and writers are claiming that the recent boom in quinoa’s popularity has put some stress and health problems upon the growers in South American quinoa production regions, mostly due to the skyrocketed price.  Common sense dictates that if the price of a native food staple rises and exporting of the product also increases, it makes it nearly impossible for the native populations to afford any to consume for themselves.

There is a lot of debate on this subject as to how true this claim actually is, and to what degree.  I urge you to conduct your own research on this topic.  I have found defenders of this claim as well as other authors who insist that the situation is being blown way out of proportion.  Make your own educated choice, and always be aware of how your food is grown, produced, and the impact it has on the communities in which it is farmed.

There you have it.  You are now a semi-genius in the ways of Couscous and Quinoa.  Impress your friends.  Impress your neighbors.  Eat to your heart’s content, now that you have all those cool recipes to try…and try not to piss off any more South Americans or Moroccans by getting the two confused.  It’s like someone confusing American baseball and English cricket. It’s just…not right.

Learn more about Valerie (Author) by checking out her personal blogs at:

One Hungry Mermaid: Musings of a Cooking, Writing, Poling, Working, Living Mermaid at Hear

Semper Paratus et Coctus (recipes, cooking tips, and all things food)

photo by: amekinfo

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